Sport Summary - Softball
Since 1982, over half of the 11 conference teams have been crown Big Ten softball champions. Michigan leads all teams with 11 titles, including an impressive 12-year streak of finishing either first or second in the conference between 1995 and 2006. The dynasty was stamped when the Wolverines captured their first Women's College World Series national championship in 2005 with a win over UCLA.
Northwestern, a team that nearly gave the Big Ten back-to-back national champions in 2006 before falling to Arizona in the WCWS championship series, is tied for second all-time with five conference titles. The Wildcats provided a dynasty of their own in the 1980s, winning four-straight Big Ten championships from 1984-87. NU ended its drought in 2006 by capturing its fifth regular-season title and then rode its momentum into NCAA Championship play. Iowa has also earned five conference titles and has often played the role of spoiler to rival Michigan. The Hawkeyes would earn back-to-back titles on their own in 1989-90, but would return to the top of the standings in 1997, 2000 and 2003 to prohibit a Wolverine three-peat (1995-96, 98-99, 2001-02).
Indiana (1986-88-91) and Minnesota (1983-86-94) have each claimed three conference titles, while Ohio State earned its lone regular-season crown in 1990. Big Ten championships have also been awarded in the conference's postseason tournament since 1995. Michigan recorded its eighth Big Ten Tournament title in 2006, while Iowa (2), Michigan State (1), Minnesota (1) and Northwestern (1) have also went onto claim the postseason trophy.
Four Big Ten standouts, including three Wolverines, have been honored by the conference in back-to-back seasons as the Player of the Year since 1985. Patti Benedict, the 1990 Freshman of the Year, was the first Michigan and Big Ten player to accomplish the feat in 1992 and 1993. In 1996, U-M's Sara Griffin earned her second-straight conference award after being honored as the Freshman and Player of the Year in 1995, while fellow Wolverine Traci Conrad, the 1996 Freshman of the Year, won two consecutive awards in 1998 and 1999. Northwestern's Garland Cooper has claimed the last two Big Ten Player of the Year honors and has an opportunity to earn her fourth-straight All-Big Ten accolade during her senior season in 2007. To date, only Michigan's Bonnie Tholl, who currently serves as U-M's associate head coach, has accomplished the feat in the Big Ten, as she was an All-Conference selection from 1988-91. On the mound, two-time Pitcher of the Year honorees include 1992 Freshman of the Year Kelly Kovach of Michigan (1992, 1995) and Iowa's Kristi Hanks (2000-01).
Carol Hutchins has guided her Wolverines to much success in more than 20 years in Ann Arbor, which has earned her a record nine Big Ten Coach of the Year awards. Iowa's Gayle Blevins is the Big Ten's winningest coach with 469 conference wins in the 25-year era, as she has also topped 1,100 career victories in Hall of Fame stops at Indiana and Iowa. Blevins' associate head coach, Michelle Ventrurella, was a unanimous selection for Big Ten Player of the Year while at Indiana in 1994. Kate Drohan, the reigning two-time conference Coach of the Year, will look to prepare her Northwestern squad for another WCWS run in 2007, when the Wildcats take to their home turf at Sharon J. Drysdale Field, named after the 1987 and 1995 Big Ten Coach of the Year.